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Victoria native pushes through car accident and husband's death to graduate

By JR Ortega
Aug. 7, 2010 at 3:07 a.m.

Michelle Fuller graduated from Coastal Carolina Community College with her associate's in psychology and minor in social work. Her son, Alex, 15; and daughter, Dakota, 12, keep her going, she said.

Michelle Fuller isn't familiar with the phrase "giving up."

So it shouldn't be a surprise the 36-year-old Victoria native overcame an almost fatal car accident and the death of her husband to finish her associate's degree in psychology and minor in social work in June at Coastal Carolina Community College in Jacksonville, N.C.

And, Fuller begins her first year at the University Of North Carolina in two weeks for a bachelor's degree in both social work and criminal psychology.

"That all started here in Victoria," said Fuller, a 1993 Stroman High School graduate. "It's my hometown, how can it not make who you are?"

The road to success has been a bumpy one, but she's beginning to see the paved road ahead, she said.

OVERCOMING TRAGEDY

Fuller avoids talking about the details of what happened in Louisiana on Aug. 6, 1995.

A passenger, she was ejected from the vehicle she was traveling in when the driver fell asleep, she said.

Her family was traveling to Texas.

Fuller spent seven months in a Louisiana charity hospital waiting to see if the 37 bones that were broken would heal.

"I was basically Humpty Dumpty," she said. "They didn't know how to put me back together again."

For three years Fuller fell in and out of depression and received frequent physical rehabilitation.

Those years were hard for Fuller's family and her circle of friends, said Marie Stenseth, Fuller's grandmother, who lives in Victoria.

"They didn't think she was going to make it," Stenseth said. "It was hard on everybody."

Fuller was told she wouldn't walk again, but her husband, John's, persistence and support pushed her to stand up and try the impossible.

She walked.

And then tragedy struck once more.

Her husband was killed in a motorcycle accident in late July 2008.

Fuller was left to continue her education and take care of their children, Alex, 15 and Dakota, 12.

A week after his funeral, school started and Fuller hit the books.

"I kept thinking 'I need to finish this degree, give my children the life their father had given them,' " said Fuller, voice quivering. "Second, I knew I needed to do it for me."

Studying and taking care of the kids was a nice distraction from the tragedies she had faced in 15 years.

"I don't know where life is going to take me," she said. "Wherever it takes me, I'm just going to roll with the flow and enjoy the ride."

A STEP TO THE FUTURE

Just two months ago, Stenseth watched the granddaughter she was told wouldn't walk again, walk across the stage and receive her associate's degree.

Though Fuller walks with a limp, she is not dependent on the wheelchair she was told she would use the rest of her life.

"It was real painful for all of us, but it was a joy to see her get through all of it," her grandmother said.

Fuller's four-year plan includes a hip replacement to eliminate the limp, two bachelor's degrees, one in social work and the other in criminal psychology.

From there, Fuller wants to get her master's degree in social work and work with the wounded warrior program in North Carolina.

Despite what she has overcome, the credit doesn't belong to her, she said.

Her late husband, father and grandmother have shaped and made her the person she is today, she said.

"I wanted to show my children that mom has been through this accident and she never gave up," she said. "If your willpower is strong enough then it's what you take and what you learn that's what is important."

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